Universal’s Your Highness hits theaters this Friday, and in preparation for the film’s release, the studio teamed up with Austin’s Alamo Drafthouse theater to present a one-night-only triple feature. The event was designed to showcase Your Highness along with a few of the films that had inspired David Gordon Green’s film: namely The Sword and The Sorcerer and Krull. It had been years since most of the crowd had seen either of these films, and while it probably goes without saying that neither have held up as well as some other fantasy films from the late 70’s/early 80’s, I can confidently report that– when combined with the awesomeness that is Your Highness and no small amount of beer– they helped deliver one hell of an evening for the assembled audience. Want to know more, including what director David Gordon Green and stars Justin Theroux and Danny McBride had to say about their love letter to the sword-and-sorcery genre? Meet me after the jump, folks.
When we filed into one of the Alamo Drafthouse’s South Lamar theaters last night, we immediately discovered that each of our seats had been thoughtfully prepared for the shenanigans that would soon follow: we had a little Your Highness chalice/cup (presumably for drinking games we might want to apply to Krull and The Sword and The Sorcerer, both of which were playing alongside Universal’s new film), a plastic sword, and a handful of posters commemorating the event. But of all the odds and ends sitting in front of us, I couldn’t help but feel that it was the special menu items that the Alamo Drafthouse’s chef had put together especially for the event that best captured Your Highness‘ lunacy.
To whit: right there at the bottom, for just $7, I could order the “Minotaur Dangle and Balls” dessert. That’s right: a dessert fashioned to look like a Minotaur’s junk.
Yes, this was definitely an Alamo Drafthouse event, but– more importantly– it was a chance for Universal to show off what I suspect is going to be a very, very popular film. We’re embargoed from reviewing Your Highness until Friday, which means that I’ve got to keep my opinions about the film brief. Rest assured that the film is incredibly funny, startlingly (and gloriously) filthy, and one helluva love letter to the sword-and-sandals films of the 1980’s. You’re going to have to wait a few more days to see Your Highness for yourselves, but you should absolutely make a point of seeing the film this weekend: this is a film that demands to be seen with a big, rowdy crowd (and preferably one that’s been drinking a bit), and if my suspicions are correct, a whole bunch of people will be talking about the film come Monday morning. You don’t want to be left out when someone makes a Minotaur-rape reference, do you? Of course you don’t.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. The evening began with the Alamo Drafthouse’s owner (and all-around badass) Tim League taking the stage in full wizard regalia. League explained–through his fake and sometimes-dangling beard– that we were all there to celebrate the “sword-and-sandals” genre, and that David Gordon Green’s film was an homage– rather than a parody– of movies like Dragonslayer, Legend, Krull, or The Sword and The Sorcerer. Green was in attendance– along with Justin Theroux (who plays the villainous Leezar in the film) and Danny McBride (who plays the reluctant knight Thaddeous)– and they all took the stage to introduce themselves. Before they were allowed to sit back down, though, League announced a “mead-drinking contest” and called five volunteers up to the stage.
I didn’t try the house mead– though it was freely available on the menu– but judging from the looks on the faces of the volunteers, I didn’t miss much. David Gordon Green seemed especially grossed out with the brew, slamming his glass (a little more slowly than League would have liked, apparently; as anyone who’s ever seen League compete can tell you, he’s the competitive sort) and announcing that he felt the need to brush his teeth. The volunteers, meanwhile, tore through their glasses long before League, Green, McBride, and Theroux could finish theirs. The contest completed, League organized a massive group photo with the theater– all of us raising our swords skyward and yelling “Arrrgh!”– and then the first film of the evening, The Sword and The Sorcerer, began.
It’s true that this genre has fallen by the wayside in the years since its heyday (though there have been a few attempts to resurrect it), but for me– a child of the 80’s– films like Krull and The Sword and The Sorcerer are as important to my film-geek DNA as and Gremlins or The Goonies: I can’t even tell you how many times I watched Krull on cable as a kid, or how many times Legend played in the background while I was doodling in the margins of my homework.
But while we may have loved these films to death as kids, nowadays they all seem… well, kind of ridiculous: the dialogue is an absolute beating to listen to; everyone in the film is unreasonably attractive: all the slave girls are topless and wearing full makeup, all the men are wearing spotless loincloths and the exact same amount of 5 o’clock shadow; all of the special effects are nothing short of primitive; the plotlines all seem to blend into one another, making some of the films virtually indistinguishable from one another. While I might consider these films part of my film-geek DNA, I wouldn’t say that I’m still a fan. It is clear, however, that the people who made Your Highness looked at all that wooden dialogue, all those terrible special effects, and all of those bare-breasted women and said, “Y’know, it’s been too long since someone made a film in this genre.” Not only are these films a part of our pop-culture vernacular, but they also serve as the basis for Gordon’s film, and– as you’ll surely agree once you’ve seen it– that makes them invaluable, even if they are a little moldy nowadays.
After The Sword and The Sorcerer ended (mercifully, I thought), Theroux, Green, and McBride came back out for another competition. This time, the three volunteers that came up onstage were part of an eating contest. At first, it wasn’t clear what they were eating. Then, it was announced that the Alamo Drafthouse’s chef had prepared “some meatballs” for the contest. By the time this segment wrapped up, however, it was revealed that the competitors were, in fact, eating “prairie oysters”. If you’re not familiar with the term “prairie oysters”, I suggest that you spend some time with Google after reading this report (not to mention applauding the courage of those who fought their way through that contest). Another winner was crowned, and then Your Highness began.
Again, I can’t offer up a full review of the film, but I can say that Universal has every right to pay themselves on the back for releasing Your Highness. Lately, Universal’s taken a bit of a beating in the press from fanboys who were outraged when Guillermo Del Toro’s proposed At The Mountains of Madness project had its plug pulled. The common sentiment, of course, was “Universal has no balls”. I challenge any of the people that accused Universal of being ball-less to watch Your Highness and say the same thing (and let’s not forget that Universal also took chances on Paul and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World recently, so let’s give credit where credit’s due: those films might not have been homeruns, but they indicate that Universal’s eager to take chances when it’s financially appropriate to do so). Your Highness is unspeakably dirty, with more than a few scenes or moments that will leave you shaking your head in disbelief that any of this made it past the MPAA (pay attention for McBride’s necklace; you’ll know it when you see it). I applaud Universal for bankrolling and releasing this film, and all of you will, too.
Once Your Highness wrapped, Green, Theroux, and McBride came back out onstage for a Q&A. Here are a few highlights from that segment:
* Asked where the idea for the movie came from, Danny McBride (who co-wrote the script) said: “Actually, this movie started as a joke. David and I went to film school together, and one of the film nerd games we’d play was, one of us would come up with the title for something, and then the other person had to come up with the plot of that movie. On the set of All The Real Girls, David was like, ‘OK, the movie’s called Your Highness– what’s it about?’ And I was like, ‘It’s about a prince who gets stoned, fights dragons’. And honestly, that was it. We’d done that a million times where the idea hasn’t turned into a movie where I get to kiss Natalie Portman, but that happened with this one.”
* Someone raising their hand and saying: “I just think we should all give it up for Universal for making a movie with (spoiler alert!) a severed Minotaur penis in it.” The crowd went ballistic. Danny McBride: “It’s a landmark for cinema”.
* How did Justin Theroux prepare for his role of an evil wizard? “I basically watched all the source material, all those movies with drunken British actors (playing wizards), like the completely overserious asshole that plays Merlin in Excalibur. I watched a lot of that stuff and basically just stole it.”
* Asked about the mixture of modern profanity and middle-ages dialogue, Green said: “We didn’t want to limit ourselves to any sort of historical(ly accurate dialogue). We wanted something with a contemporary feel to it, and we knew it’d be tricky to make, like, a PG comedy. We would’ve had all these rules, and we wanted to throw all the rules out the door.”
* Asked how he feels about going from very small indie films to a massive, effects-driven fantasy/comedy, Green said: “Well, just like probably all of you guys like to see different kinds of movies every week– a little of this, a little of that– it’s fun professionally to, like, get in the ring and design creatures and have guys in suits and puppets and just, y’know, bring in all this stuff…I remember when I was a kid, and if something like ‘Behind The Scenes of Return of The Jedi’ would come on, I’d just be glued to the screen, wishing that one day I’d be able to get my hands dirty doing something like that. I’m into all types of movies– I’m trying to make a horror film (next), and there’s some indie movies that’d cost about $5 to make that I’d like to do– but this was a chance for someone to write a check for a big-budget comedy, and to be able to do something as balls-out as this one…y’know, I’m gonna take advantage of that!”
After the Q&A, there was another segment wherein two volunteers were pitted against one another in the Krull video game (somehow even more old-school looking than Krull), and then Krull screened. I confess that I hadn’t seen Krull in years, but I’m happy to report that I still prefer Krull– which seems a lot weirder and less booby-obsessed than Sword and The Sorcerer– to most of the films in the 1980s’ sword-and-sandal genre. While it runs through a checklist that many of these 80’s fantasy films seemed to go by (Odd-looking weapon that only the hero can use? Check. One-eyed monstrous character? Check. Damsels in distress and various states of undress? Check), I still think that it does it better than any of ‘em, including Legend. I know that’s not the most popular opinion, but some part of my charcoal-black heart has always had its cockles warmed by Krull, and I suspect that that’ll always be the case.
Screening Your Highness with Krull and Sword and The Sorcerer was a clever idea, but I wonder if Universal realized just how good it would make their film look: like a shitty cover band that comes out before the headliner, Sword and The Sorcerer and Krull both served to make Your Highness look even better than it would have on its own. After watching Sword and The Sorcerer, watching Your Highness felt like…like…y’know what? It felt like watching an old movie on a really battered, well-worn VHS tape and then watching the same movie’s director’s cut on Blu-ray on the biggest 3D television possible: the change in quality was dramatic in every way, from the video quality to the audio to the acting, writing, direction, special effects– everything. This was a crafty moves on Universal’s part, but I kinda felt like we would have enjoyed Your Highness just as much without either of these early 80’s relics. But, hey, most of the people hadn’t seen any of the films that Your Highness so brilliantly mines for material in years, so maybe it did serve another purpose. In any event, rewatching Krull wasn’t as big a chore as watching Sword and The Sorcerer, but as a celebration of crappy 80’s movies, the entire event was a success.
But for those of you looking for something a little more current (and a helluva lot better-looking, acted, written, and directed than any of the 80’s fantasy films we’ve mentioned above), I simply can’t recommend David Gordon Green’s Your Highness enough. Your Highness arrives in theaters this weekend, and all of you need to be there opening day. Many thanks to Collider.com, the Alamo Drafthouse, and Universal for one helluva great triple-feature.
Thanks to Jack Plunkett for photos, and Johnny Sampson for event flyer.